hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Editorial August 2019



Expanding the links to fresh, healthy food


It has been an inspiration to watch the blossoming of the local food movement in our region over the past two decades. Farmers markets, community supported farms, and locally crafted food businesses of every variety have sprung up and thrived in our small cities and rural towns as consumers increasingly seek out food that’s local, fresh, tasty and often organic.
So it is a bit sobering to be reminded that even at a time when our macro-economy seems healthy and in a region where good food is plentiful, there are still a fair number of our neighbors whose diets and food options are limited by poverty, age or disability – or by access issues such as lack of transportation and long distances to stores.

Our cover story this month details an effort in Columbia County to break through both of these sets of limitations. The result is a new nonprofit grocer that opened earlier this year in Hudson, N.Y.

The store, called Rolling Grocer 19, serves a city that for years has had no full-fledged supermarket within its borders. And the new store offers a tiered pricing system in which its more affluent member-customers effectively pay a bit extra to help offer lower prices for those whose income and resources might otherwise force them to abstain from good food.

At first blush it may seem hard to believe that a city like Hudson would be classified as a “food desert” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. After all, the city’s main drag, Warren Street, is filled with boutique stores and high-end restaurants that are sustained by the area’s large population of New York City weekenders.

But consider that for the many people who live in homes and apartments in Hudson, the simple act of grocery shopping has required a trek of nearly three miles to the nearest supermarkets – at the outer edge of a suburban shopping district in the neighboring town of Greenport. For those who can’t drive or don’t own cars, the options for reaching these stores are time-consuming and costly. Some simply choose to avoid the trip as much as possible, even if it means they don’t eat very well.

This problem isn’t unique to Hudson. Across our region, lots of older urban centers and rural towns have become more isolated from full-service grocery retailers in the past two decades. A study in Columbia County found that 15 percent of county residents lacked easy access to a supermarket.

Faced with competition from behemoths like Wal-Mart, regional supermarket chains have focused on large-scale stores that can achieve economies of scale while offering lots of choices to customers. Almost without exception, these stores have been built in suburban commercial areas with lots of parking and easy access for trucking. But older, smaller stores have closed, leaving communities from New Lebanon to Whitehall to Lee, Mass., without local supermarkets.
In Hudson, Rolling Grocer 19 has the backing of the Hawthorne Valley Association, whose farm store in Harlemville was one of the pioneers of the region’s local food movement and remains one of its bright lights. The connection gives the fledgling venture the benefit of Hawthorne Valley’s network of suppliers.

The project’s supporters hope the new store in Hudson will offer a model that can spread to other communities across Columbia County. If it succeeds, a lot of towns across the wider region will take note.


August Cartoon by Mark Wilson ©2019 HCO


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